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Branford Marsalis and Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia at Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts

Patricia Myers By

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Branford Marsalis and Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Scottsdale, Arizona
October 19, 2014

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis demonstrated his consummate versatility during a concert with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia as part of that ensemble's 50th anniversary national concert tour, the jazz-pop star having segued into classical performances four years ago with the New York Philharmonic.

"Marsalis: Well-Tempered" was the concert theme, using a term applied to the music-theory concept of a 12-note keyboard octave of majors and minors, as exposed in Johannes Sebastian Bach's famed composition, "The Well-Tempered Clavier."

The concert staged 19 string musicians and a harpsichordist performing without a director. Marsalis had transcribed traditional Baroque parts for oboe, bassoon and violin, modernizing the sound via his soprano saxophone. He performed a straight-ahead classical repertoire with no improvisational excursions, not even very much during the closing encore of "Autumn Leaves." His on-stage stature, however, was different from more rigid classical soloists, as he stood in a relaxed position with frequent forward movements for his bright and agile musical shifts.

Marsalis treated with great aural respect the three-part concerto by Tomaso Albinoni, also Francois Couperin's six-part "Concerts Royaux" that best exposed his stylish ability on soprano sax. He also performed a four-part sonata by Louis-Antoine Dornel, written originally for oboe and basso continuo, the latter allowing for imperceptible improvisations by cello, keyboard and/or bassoon. He closed the program with Bach's "Concerto in F Major for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo" that also offered a less rigid effect.

The orchestra also performed three selections without Marsalis, opening with Bach's "Air on the G String," later Georg Philipp Telemann's seven-part "Don Quixote at Comacho's Wedding," as well as Pietro Locatelli's "Concerto Grosso in C Minor." During all these, as well as the Marsalis solo segments, the harpsichord was so badly under-amplified that it rarely could be heard above the richly melodic and harmonious strings.

For the scattering of jazz fans in the sold-out audience of 850, who perhaps had anticipated the precisely stylish swing of the Modern Jazz Quartet, the encore of "Autumn Leaves" was welcome familiarity via a trio of saxophone, acoustic bass and keyboard. This time the harpsichord could be heard better, but Marsalis remained in his classical strait-jacket, resulting in minimal improvisation.

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